Racial Rhetoric

Nott, Cartwright, Caldwell, Morton and their colleagues provided a scientific rationale for American racism. Their ideas, circulated widely throughout the South, heavily informed pro-slavery rhetoric. In Types of Mankind, Nott wrote, “Nations and races, like individuals, have each an especial destiny: some are born to rule, and others to be ruled. No two distinctly-marked races can dwell together on equal terms.” Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the 22 Confederacy, referenced the ideas espoused by Morton and his colleagues in his infamous “Cornerstone Speech,” delivered in 1861:

Alexander Stephens<br />

Alexander Stephens
Confederacy Vice President


“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea;

its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.

This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

The beliefs and publications of individuals cannot be equated to the beliefs of Penn as an institution. Nevertheless, the American School was largely centered at Penn Medical School, and some of its graduates became the most vocal authorities on the supposed science of racial difference. As exemplified by Morton’s extant lectures on the subject, racial science was a component of medical education at Penn by the mid-19th century. The publications of its graduates, considered collectively, represent the most influential and widely-circulated works of the ethnographic pseudoscience of the antebellum period. Medical degrees from Penn rendered the “science” of these physicians credible, and their medical education made their practices possible. Their works were circulated widely throughout the South, and their views ultimately formed the basis of many pro-slavery arguments in the years preceding secession.

~ Carson Eckhard